The new GT Grade Alloy delivers versatility and fun at less than $1,000. That's an impressive feat for any bike, but the Grade deftly pulls triple duty as a road bike, commuter, and dirt adventure rig. GT Bicycles designed the Grade line to perform on pavement, and it does, making an ideal bike for centuries, fondos, and hard training. But the Grade can also carry the rider down practically any other path.
From a distance, the Grade looks fairly similar to GT's other road offerings, but small details throughout the bike make it ideal for adventures with gravel and dirt. The most obvious is the disc brakes, a standard feature on even the entry-level $870 Grade. The geometry of the Grade frame is also more similar to a cyclocross bike, with a longer wheelbase and lower bottom bracket. These design choices create a more stable riding platform that also lowers a cyclist's center of gravity. Two more important features for the Grade's off-road abilities come from the wider tire clearance and flex zones near the rear hub and seatpost cluster that help the frame tubes better absorb vibrations from rough surfaces.
We tested the Grade Alloy Sora model ($980) on the roads and paths around New York City, with its heaviest use as a high-speed city bike and commuter. We eventually swapped the durable 28c Kenda Kwest slicks that came stock for a fatter, slightly more forgiving 32c Continental Gatorskin. (If we wanted to go wider, the Grade can fit 35c-plus treads.) The stiff, efficient frame jumped up to speed to keep pace with traffic in rides back and forth across the city. And it handled the rear weight of a full pannier — whether it was lunch and a change of clothes, or a case of beer — without any disruption to the safe, steady handling. On longer rides, the frame's road-damping design became evident as we crossed miles of broken pavement or gravel outside of town.
The Shimano Sora 2x9 drivetrain proved robust, despite hard testing and the regular abuse and knocks a bike receives from getting locked up outdoors daily. After a short break-in period, the mechanical Tektro disc brakes provided nearly as much bite as higher-end hydraulic, and consistently proved to be a boon in wet conditions. The bike's build is capped off by a carbon-legged fork that saves weight while providing additional damping. GT produces seven builds of the Grade, starting at an aluminum Shimano Claris model for $870 and topping out at a $3,300 carbon-fiber version with Shimano Ultegra 11-speed shifters and hydraulic brakes. [$980 as tested; gtbicycles.com]